Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Film Review: Late Night

Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling shine, but Late Night doesn’t quite earn the title of must-see viewing.

It’s often said that comedy is harder than drama, which would make crafting a comedy about comedy no mean feat. Illustrating that success in this area can escape even the most accomplished of comic writers, Late Night – from screenwriter and star Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) – offers intermittent amusement, while struggling to settle on a consistent theme.

Set in the cutthroat world of American late night television, Late Night sees aspiring comedian Molly Patel (Kaling) land the job of her dreams as a staff writer on a show fronted by ageing and scathing TV star Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Newbury’s show is suffering a gradual decline in viewership, thanks in part to its sausage fest for a writer’s room. With eight white men all writing the gags, it’s no wonder things are starting to feel a little stale – so in comes Molly to spice it up, and hopefully rescue the ratings.

Kaling sets out to tell a story that satirises late night television in the same way The Devil Wears Prada and Morning Glory satirised the fashion industry and breakfast television respectively, and the first act largely delivers on this potential. Sexism, ageism, racism – Kaling deftly weaves all three, and more, into Late Night’s juicy premise. 

Molly’s peers initially mistake her for an aide who will fetch their coffee instead of an equal; and her eagerness at including jokes about female issues – like menopause – only serves to make the male writers squeamish. It’s light, easy-to-please stuff with a gentle dusting of wry social commentary – so far, so good.

But this energy soon drains from the film. Whatever critique Kaling was crafting soon loses stream amidst an overly complicated rom-com plot, an oversized cast, more than one or two narrative cul-de-sacs that go nowhere and a botched attempt to tie things in with the Me Too movement. The film sets its sights on tearing chunks out of the likes of Kimmel, Fallon and co, but doesn’t hit hard enough or leave with something memorable to say. 

The Verdict: 6/10

Scene to scene, Late Night’s tone is incredibly inconsistent. Side-splittingly funny one second and perplexingly inept the next, it starts strong before losing its way. It feels like a proof of concept that needed more polish in the writer’s room before making it to air – which is a shame, because the basic formula of a fresh-faced employee clashing with a hostile workplace and boss has served us so well in the past.

Late Night is in cinemas across Australia from tomorrow August 8.

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